The University of Virginia’s launch of a new School of Data Science, announced in January, represents the 2,000-fold flowering of a seed the Alumni Association’s Jefferson Trust planted more than six years ago.
“Data has the potential to shape our world in ways we are only now beginning to understand,” President James E. Ryan (Law ’92) said during Dome Room ceremonies. “We have an opportunity to establish one of the first schools of data science in the nation—one driven by the discovery of new knowledge and a commitment to the public good.” (See related President’s Letter)
Primary funding for the school, UVA’s first since the establishment of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy in 2007, comes from a $120 million gift—the largest in UVA’s history—from the private Quantitative Foundation. Charlottesville-based hedge-fund investor Jaffray Woodriff (Com ’91) is trustee of the foundation, and his wife, Merrill Woodriff (Col ’98, Educ ’98), is its director.
“The time is right to establish a school which will not only train the finest data scientists in the world, but will also collaborate with schools across the University to evaluate and shape policy with respect to the ethical, privacy and regulatory aspects of data science application,” said Jaffray Woodriff.
Pending Board of Visitors, Faculty Senate and other approvals, the school will offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees in data science, a broad and growing field that combines statistics, math, computer science and information science.
Support from other sources will increase the school’s initial funding to $200 million and allow construction of a new facility for the school, UVA’s 12th.
A $100,000 grant from the Jefferson Trust in fall 2012 helped the idea take root. Executive Director Wayne Cozart says the Trust board offered UVA’s then-President Teresa A. Sullivan that amount to put toward the highest use. She chose the ramping up of an interdisciplinary data science institute.
The following year brought a $10 million donation from the Woodriffs’ Quantitative Foundation, and the UVA Data Science Institute officially opened. It awarded 31 degrees in 2018 and will be integrated into the new school. The institute’s director, Phil Bourne, will be acting dean of the new school.
Cozart sees the new school as the perfect example of the Jefferson Trust’s mission. “It’s actually what we do,” he said. “We are seed funding for the University of Virginia.”